Belong

I watch my littlest follow her sisters around like a puppy.  She is desperate to be big enough to join in with their play.  She is willing to try anything to keep up with them and to feel a part of their games and, more importantly, their friendship.
Following
Following Along
I see myself all too well in her.  I, too, find myself following after others with whom I desire friendship.  I will do things that I don’t enjoy or participate in too many activities just to feel as though I belong.
Joining In
Tagging Along
I find it hard to understand why I do this, to figure out what lies behind this quiet, desperate feeling.  Part of the trouble is that there have been too many occasions of friends drifting away as though I weren’t quite worth the effort.  I think, though, that an even bigger part of the trouble is my disbelief of what God has told me, of what He has told all of us.
 Playing
Striving
I don’t truly, deep down inside, believe that I am worth being loved.
Joining
If I did, it wouldn’t matter how many friendships ended quietly, I would still be ready once again to make myself vulnerable for another.
Following
I don’t believe that I am valuable and that all I truly need is Him.  So I chase after other people, trying to prove my worth to them and to myself.  I think that I need other people more than I need the approval of my God.
One of the bunch
I forget, you see, that I already belong.  I belong to the One who tossed the stars into their orbits and who crafted the sweet violet.  I belong and I am worth more to Him than all the birds in the air.
One of the crowd
Part of the team
Maybe someday I will do a better job of believing it.

Certainty and Faith

There sometimes comes into the heart of all of us a desire to be sure.  A sudden longing for certainty about that which we profess to believe.
Light
We wish to be able to say I believe with no niggling of doubt that causes us to draw back from the ringing shout we had wanted to pronounce.
Light
Doubt is that persistent shadow that startles us now and again just when we’d thought we’d left it behind for good.  It is that small voice that sometimes lingers and sometimes only whispers and is gone.
Light
We want it to disappear for always.  We long to be certain, to be troubled no longer by questions.
Yet I am beginning to discover that certainty is not faith.  Certainty is based on evidence, on proof, on concrete and unassailable fact.  Faith, however, is relationship.  It is risk and it is vulnerability.
Offering
Vulnerability
Certainty is about control, about predicting behavior.  Faith is a gift from me to you, a gift of myself placed into your hands.
Risk
I have read about certainty and faith in the context of a marriage.  Certainty in marriage is secretly reading all of your spouse’s emails and texts and journals.  Certainty in marriage is hiring a detective to follow your spouse to be sure he is being faithful.  Certainty in marriage is tapping the phones to be sure of the trustworthiness of your spouse.
Faith in marriage is a gift.  It is an offering of myself, of my vulnerability and my heart, to you as one whom I believe to be faithful.
When I trust you, I take a little piece of myself…and put it into your hands.  And then I’m vulnerable.  Then you respond, and I find out whether you are trustworthy…I give you the gift of my trust, and you give me the gift of your faithfulness. ~ John Ortberg in Faith and Doubt
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not what we truly long for.
If by it (the intellect) we could prove there is a God, it would be of small avail indeed.  We must see Him and know Him. ~ George MacDonald in The Curate’s Awakening
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not such a prize to be pursued.  Perhaps, after all, God is more pleased with the vulnerable gift of faith than He is by the chasing after an elusive proof of His existence.
Faith
May He be pleased by my trust.

Art Credit: Photographs of light by Kirk Sewell

Still Following the Signs

I sit in the early morning, looking out the window at the wind making shimmery the leaves of our cottonwood, and remember Kristina.  It is the third anniversary of her death, and it sometimes still feels as though we are stumbling through the dark.  So much hurt and fear back then, so much hurt and fear all around us now.  In this world, it will always be so.  There are glimpses of light that keep us going, slight breaths of a hope that keeps our eyes searching the gloom for that bright and beautiful future that is promised, but it is easy to get distracted by the ugliness all around.  I am drawn back to a post I wrote soon after Kristina’s death.
pain of death
In the middle of this pain common to all of us who live in this world, as we sit surrounded by those who love us, it is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in clichés that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie.  Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ.  Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us.  To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.
Forsaken
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

When God seems not to place much importance on whether we are free from pain or suffering, it is difficult not to live in a state of paralysis.  It seems a formidable task both to acknowledge the depth of pain we feel and also to acknowledge the depth of God’s love for us.
We see this pain in the world around us.  We see it all throughout the Bible.  Abel.  Abraham.  Joseph.  Moses.  Uriah the prophet…murdered for prophesying while Jeremiah was allowed to live.  John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin.  All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.
Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard.  I might never know the reason.
Kristina
God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here.” ~ Ann Voskamp

What can we do when everything inside of us wants to turn tail and run from the painful possibility of God’s loving best?  Can we truly trust in the heart of God?
Puddleglum
We often learn best through story.  One story that helps to show us what to do is written in C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair.  Two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia.  They completely botch the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to a silver chair.  The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”.  The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, who says:
“Once and for all, I adjure you to set me free.  By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –”
“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt.  “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum.  “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously.  “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.
It was a dreadful question.  What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about?  On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?  Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.  “I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.  “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum.  “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen.  He only told her what to do.  That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder.  But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
That doesn’t let us off following the sign.

We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out all right.  We try so hard to grasp at that security, to bring it into existence, but it simply is not there.  Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.
After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said, “If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed?  It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done.  He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’”

And so we find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why.  It does not matter whence came the hard thing or even that it may be painfully hard.  If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.
It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s.  God is able to handle our questions, our fears.  Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, then we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…
We aren’t let off following the signs.

Sketch is Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses

Stomach Doubt

Sometimes it is a hiding in the two a.m. darkness.

Hiding

Sometimes it is a wrestling with something only partly known.

Wrestling

Sometimes it is a stumbling around in the dusk that is almost nightfall.

Stumbling

It is a doubt about God that is common to all who are awake and alive.  Whether you believe in God and at times doubt His existence or you disbelieve in God and at times doubt His absence, it is an experience of humanity.
Frederick Buechner speaks of head doubt and stomach doubt.
Head doubt can happen at any time and about anything at all.  I can doubt the existence of God, the true fabric of reality, even the evidence of my own senses if the mood is right.  When these doubts descend, I usually keep living my life as I have been living, continue to act as though I still believe, and in the end it eventually comes out right.
I have never experienced stomach doubt.  Perhaps only those who whose faith is the strongest, the saints among us, have experienced this kind of doubt.
I believe that Jesus did.  When He cried out “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  I believe that He was engulfed in stomach doubt.  He had, as Buechner said, “looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed Him.”

 

I don’t know that I am strong enough to withstand that kind of doubt.

 

It seems hard to pray that someday I might be.

To Interpret with Love

I have written recently about the difficulty of agreeing on Biblical interpretation.  It is easy to draw lines in the sand and difficult to discern between what is cultural and what is truth that transcends place and time.  It is easy to vilify those with whom we disagree and difficult to extend the grace of believing that they, too, are doing their best to follow Christ.
The ease of which I find myself speaking in terms of “us” and “them” while speaking of how we interpret the Bible forces me to search more deeply into how I see the Bible.
God's Words
Do I view the Bible as a way to live my own life or do I look into its pages to search out ways of making me right and them wrong?  Of even more eternal import, do I place the Bible as an idol above God?  Do I view the Bible or Jesus as the Word of God?
The Word
Words
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.  When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer.  But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read with attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.  ~ C.S. Lewis in a letter to a lady
When it does become necessary to know how to interpret a certain passage (only, as Lewis said, for my own spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity), to know whether it was only written to one particular culture or whether it should be obeyed in all times and places, I am learning that love should be my standard.   It seems obvious when you think about what Jesus mandated as the most important of all the commands, but it is a standard for interpretation that I had never thought about before.  Love is to be the standard for deciding which passages are cultural and which are universal.
Paul says in Romans that whatever commandment there may be, it can be summed up in the rule “love your neighbor as yourself”.  He is, of course, writing of the Greek word agape when speaking of love.  Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional sort of love.  It is the kind of love that seeks out the best for others before it seeks for the good of itself.  I think what Paul means, what Jesus means by “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” is that if we are truly living out God’s kind of love for others, we will always be led to do the right thing.
Picking Corn
Breaking the Sabbath
Even Jesus seems to apply the same principle to the Jewish Scriptures when He heals on the Sabbath or picks and eats grain on the Sabbath.  Rather than defending Himself by saying that He is not technically breaking the Sabbath, in each case He argues that sometimes violating the letter of the law is necessary in order to act in love and fulfill the spirit of the law instead.
I have a lot more praying and studying to do about this, but this idea feels incredibly freeing.  Rather than having to be a Bible scholar and know the ancient languages by heart, I can apply this standard of agape love and let God’s Spirit lead me to the best answer of whether a passage is cultural or for always.  Paul speaks of slaves obeying their masters, but agape love demands their freedom.  Paul’s rules about hair length and head coverings were good in his time and place, but they have no current relation to loving God or our neighbors.
Scripture
We have been set free from the Law.  We no longer live under the supervision of the Law but under grace.  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  Paul speaks to this many times, saying that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our own selfish impulses but that we are to use our freedom to serve each other in love.  Love, agape love, is to be our standard, our way of deciding what is right and what is wrong, both in our deeds and in God’s Word.
After all, as we see in the story of the judgement in Matthew 25, Christ knows us by our actions as we serve the outcasts, the hungry, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned.
But Jesus provides no list of beliefs at all.  People are judged not on what they believe but on how they have loved. ~ Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

How We Love

The Beauty of Gray

The older I get, the more gray shades I see in our world.  An expansion of colors, a deepening of my perceptions, these nuances that make my life richer are a bit astonishing.
It was much easier when the lenses I wear saw only black and white.
Lily Black and White     Analise Black and White     Cross Black and White
Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view.  Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown.  Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more I meet people who were raised differently than I was raised and the more I read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more I begin to catch a glimpse of how much my view of God, of the Bible, of the world around me is colored by my own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding.  There are many issues of our faith that I have been rethinking and restudying lately, asking God once again to teach me His way.
Issues like the role of women in the church and in the family, homosexuality, how science and the Bible fit together, what the inerrancy of the Scriptures really means.  On some of these issues I am changing.  On others I remain.  Yet on all of these issues and more, as I read and study I realize something that is even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy.  We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words.  Rather than those who disagree with me being the enemy, being the one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being the one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like I am.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps I am the one who is wrong.
Grace.  It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely.  I spend so much time wanting to get it right, sometimes from good motivation and sometimes from pride, that I quit looking at the person with whom I differ.  I see black and I see white, and the sharp edges of truth keep me from seeing the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before me.
Lily Four Shades     Analise Four Shades     Cross Four Shades
It is easier to look at the black and white of an issue, because to see the gray of a person is to see Jesus.  And seeing Jesus is always hard.  Looking at the face of Jesus has a way of changing you deep down where it hurts.
There is a reason why Jesus said that the most important thing is to love.  Loving God and loving people is more important than getting it all right.  He didn’t say it was the easiest thing.  Most things with Jesus aren’t.
Loving others has a way of hijacking the straight lines of your life and carrying you off to the unknown.  Loving Jesus has a way of blurring your sharp edges and softening the contours of your heart.
It is painful and it is frightening.
Lily All Shades    Analise All Shades    Cross All Shades
And those gray shades are beautiful beyond words.

 

Thanks to Kirk Sewell for turning the colors of my photographs into various shades of gray.  You can see more of his work at http://photographybysewell.webs.com

The Years the Locust Ate

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you…
Beauty
A beautiful set of verses in Joel.  Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Drought
Yet I hate with all of my being that there were entire years that were eaten by locusts.  I hate that people had to endure that pain and despair before they could reach the end point of being satisfied and praising God.
The memories of those years don’t go away.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.  And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before…And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.  And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.  He had also seven sons and three daughters…And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations.  And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
Flourishing
Another beautiful set of verses in Job.  Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Devastated
Yet Job still endured the loss of all that he had.  He still watched all of his children die and, as any of you who have lost children know all too well, no number of new children can ever take away the pain of losing those who came before.
It is a heart filled with mixed emotions, this kind of hope.  It is joy and excitement over the beauty of what lies ahead and it is sorrow and grieving over what happened in the past.
Autumn Blazes
This is life.
Life and Death
It is beauty that is tinged with sorrow.  It is love that is colored by loss.  All who live deeply are affected.  None are exempt except for those who choose not to love.
God speaks beautiful words about our future with Him, words filled with promise, words filled with satisfaction and praise and joy. What do we do with this apparent contradiction?  How do we get from this common suffering to a perfect life filled with perfect joy?
One option is that it is all a big hoax.  None of this hope is true; it is all just a ruse to keep us from rebelling too hard against our lot in life.
Those who have known God long enough to catch a glimpse of His character, though, know that He is not given to such cruel jokes.
Jesus with Samaritan Woman
If you keep God in the picture, this God who is the very definition of love, than you are left with the answer that it is somehow all worth it. If God is who He says He is, if His words are trustworthy and true, then somehow the end is so brilliantly glorious that it will eclipse the darkness that came before.
Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.  ~ C.S. Lewis
So what do we do with this hope that is so full of wildly contradicting emotions?  I don’t understand how this sort of ending is at all possible when the sorrow seems so great.  Yet like Abraham, we are asked to keep trusting in the face of apparent impossibility.  Trusting that what God said to Abraham is truth for all: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”
Light
On our best days we are able to trust that, in the end, we will be so seized by the sight of His face that we will fall to the ground at His feet in pure adoration. And all that came before will be as a vacuous mist that is chased away by the brilliant light and heat of the sun.

Art Credits: Sunlight Through Tulips photo by Kirk Sewell; Christ and Samaritan Woman painting by Siemiradzki; Sunlight Through Trees photo by Kirk Sewell

When You Wonder

Sometimes I wonder.
Christ Carrying the Cross
I wonder if it is worth it to obey Christ?  He does, after all, say crazy, ridiculous things about giving yourself away and having trouble in this world and carrying a cross into the world’s darkness as He did in order to follow Him for love of Him and love of the world.

 

Starry Sky
I wonder if anyone is actually listening when I pray?  I have, after all, asked for many beautiful things that never came to pass, things that any sane person would want to occur, and have hurled words into the void of space, words that seemed to return home empty.

 

busy street
I wonder if God really does exist when much of the time the world around me and sometimes even my own heart says that He does not.

 

What do we do when we wonder?
Wondering
Take the next step.  Say the next prayer.  Obey the next time.  The only way to find out whether all of this is true is to try it, live it, do it.
Ask and you will be given.  Seek and you will find.  Draw near to Him and see if He will draw near to you.  Ask for Him and see if He will come to you in ways that you alone can comprehend.  Look for Him and see if you can see a light at the heart of this darkness.  This is the only way to go on.
Our Light
Speak your doubts out loud when your heart hears only echoing silence.  “Do You know me even though I don’t know You?” is still a kind of prayer.
We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet.  ~ Frederick Buechner
Is this a turning away from faith?  Not at all.  It is only moments and days, and sometimes weeks and months, that come to all of us who believe.  This wondering is common to us all.
Adeste fidelis.  That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: Christ Carrying the Cross by Joachim Beuckelaer; Planetary Nebula by NASA; Crowds by J. Solis

To You Who Doubt

IMG_2529
To you who doubt, I say
Bravo.
We are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties…it is all right to be like the small child who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why? ~Madeleine L’Engle
And have mercy on those who doubt…Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
IMG_5621
IMG_5628To you who question God’s nature or even very His existence, I say
You are courageous.
If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty. ~ Francis Bacon
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
IMG_6411
To you who voice concerns over why the ugly exists and why life is unfair, I say
Thank you for speaking aloud the fears we all harbor deep in our hearts.
Love, which trusts God so implicitly despite the cloud, that it is brave enough to ask questions, no matter how fearful. ~L’Engle
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
IMG_2898
To you who doubt the things you have been taught, who question traditional religious beliefs, I say
Search on.
To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience: Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire. ~ John Donne
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
IMG_4929
When people shrink back in horror from your questions, when fellow Christ-followers load shame onto your heart, remind them of the faithfulness of doubt.
This (the faithfulness of doubt) is often assumed by the judgmental to be faithlessness, but it is not; it is a prerequisite for a living faith. ~ L’Engle
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
IMG_2622
To you who continue to seek through the fear of what the answers will be, I say
Take heart. God is and He will be found.
If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear. But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God…, then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. ~ L’Engle
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy
road to emmaus zund
Semiradsky_Christ_Martha_Maria
To you who you are brave enough to doubt, brave enough to ask questions, brave enough to keep on searching for God Himself rather than what man says about God, I say
You deserve our deep respect for your courage.
You deserve our cheers and our thanks for refusing to settle for a shallow faith that only is manifested in appearances.
To you who doubt, I say
Well done, hero.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

art credit: Road to Emmaus by Zund; Christ with Martha and Maria by Siemiradzki

This essay is, in part, for my brothers who kept searching for God at different times, in very different ways, and under very different circumstances, yet both found and were found by Him.

Deepest Need

I desperately wanted Kristina to be healed.
Kristina
I long for the lost wisdom of my Papa.
Analise, Natalie and Papa
I dream of a normal life for my friend, Stephanie.
steph
There are so many stories that I, in my limited vision, would change if I had my way. What story would you change?
Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Palsied_Man_Let_Down_through_the_Roof_(Le_paralytique_descendu_du_toit)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall
I am forced to look deeply at myself, however, when I read the story of friends who lowered the paralyzed down to Jesus through a hole. I hear Jesus’ first words.
Your sins are forgiven
I imagine myself as a friend.
Yes, yes. Forgiveness is good. But we cut away that barrier to You for healing. We want you to fix this. We want him to walk!
But this is Jesus. He is answering the deepest need first, and the deepest need is not to be able to walk.
Lent Candles
IMG_4350
It sometimes feels as though my deepest need is to be relieved of my burden.
Cancer is a heavy burden.
Rejection is a heavy burden.
Death is a heavy burden.
Yet over and over again, God’s best work happens when I am carrying my heaviest burden.
Paradise_Lost_10
I can see this truth at work in the art that I love.
It is interesting to note how many artists have had physical problems to overcome, deformities, lameness, terrible loneliness. Could Beethoven have written that glorious paean of praise in the Ninth Symphony if he had not had to endure the dark closing in of deafness? As I look through his work chronologically, there’s no denying that it deepens and strengthens along with the deafness. Could Milton have seen all that he sees in Paradise Lost if he had not been blind? It is chastening to realize that those who have no physical flaw, who move through life in step with their peers, who are bright and beautiful, seldom become artists. The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain…Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water
In the midst of these hard things, Jesus wants to be certain that I am still able to rest in Him. He wants me to know that He has overcome all of these burdens so that even while I am underneath my burden I can have peace.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
The knowledge that I will have trouble is a hard truth. One that I don’t like most of the time.
A large part of me wants to clutch tightly those I love best and protect them. Yet a tiny part of me knows what is truly important.
Lent Candles 2
God’s way of forgiveness and transformation is more important than relief from my heavy burden. I try to trust and let that smaller part of me grow.
I long to be who God intended for me to be. I want to grow. It seems that transformation requires hard things.
Paul, the one who was beaten and imprisoned and shipwrecked and stoned and rejected by many, calls these hard things “light and momentary troubles“.
I can’t do that yet. I cannot open my arms and embrace these burdens.
I can, however, accept them and choose to voice words of gratitude and praise to God for them, even if I don’t truly feel grateful. I can choose to allow these burdens, this pain, to help me grow rather than to drag me down into depression.
I am tempted to try to avoid not only my own suffering but also that of those around me, the suffering of the world.
Lent Candles 3
Instead, I will continue to allow suffering to inspire my art, to trust that God will make all things beautiful.
Instead, I will allow pain to deepen and strengthen my life rather than to destroy it.
Instead, I will pray this grace for those around me as well.

 

Art credits: my thanks to Eddie Lowen, Pastor at West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, for his thoughts on this subject; The Palsied Man Let Down through the Roof by James Tissot; Illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore